On Friday, April 9, the Army Corp of Engineers announced it would halt discharges to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on Saturday, April 10. The Corp has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee since March 6th. Today Lake Okeechobee sits at 14.14 feet. Please read above link for details.
These aerials were taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, yesterday, Saturday, April 10, 2021 at approximately 1:30 pm during an outgoing tide, from 3000 feet over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and 1500 feet over Lake Okeechobee and the C-44 Canal.
There have been documented reports of algae near Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee as well as on the the west coast -April 8. Ed’s photos from April 10 reveal some algae in C-44 canal near the railroad bridge just inside the S-308 structure, but none was visible in Lake O near S-308 from the altitude of the airplane.
Ed, myself, and the River Warrior crew will continue flights documenting the visual condition of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Always watching. Always sharing.
When we are not flying, you can follow along electronically via my brother Todd Thurlow’s website eyeonlakeo.
-Sandbar and barren (no visible seagrass) Sailfish Flats area of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Visually, water is a mixture of blue and brown, mostly transparent, near St Lucie Inlet.-Discharges exiting St Lucie Inlet over nearshore reefs. It will take a few days for the river to clear up. -At Lake Okeechobee, Port Mayaca, S-308 Structure to C-44 Canal leading to St Lucie River-C-44 Canal at railroad bridge just inside S-308 structure. Algae visible on right side. -C-44 at St Lucie Locks and Dam S-80 Structure AKA “The 7 Gates of Hell.”
Florida Oceanographic Society WQ Report “B” March 31-April 7, 2021
Documenting the Discharges, Saturday, April 3, 2021.
Since last week, the ACOE has lowered discharges to the St Lucie River from 500 cubic feet per second to 300. The lake is now down to 14.44 feet from over 16. Blue-green algae has been spotted in the C-44 canal near S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam. This canal connects Lake O to the St Lucie River and blue-green algae is always of concern as reported my Max Chesnes of TCPalm. Ed and I saw no algae at S-308 on Lake Okeechobee from the air. The water does have an odd hue-perhaps due to wind. We did not get over S-80 due to weather conditions.
This go around, the ACOE began discharging on March 6, 2021 to the St Lucie River, so yesterday, when these photos were taken it was 28 days after the discharges. The aerials were taken from about 3000 feet, at approximately 3:30pm, on an outgoing tide. Conditions were windy, cloudy, and all waters were stirred-up.
Please note federal, state, and local links on subject following photographs.
~Wishing all a Happy Easter and Spring time! See you next week. Ed & I will continue to document the discharges.
Running images of S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee and over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon near Sewall’s Point the dividing peninsula of these waters-merging at the Crossroads and Sailfish Flats near the St Lucie Inlet. Photos Ed Lippisch.
~Documenting the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon. Sewall’s Point, Ed and my home, lies between the St Lucie & Indian River Lagoon. My husband, Ed Lippisch, flew high, up to 7000 feet, to take photos of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and S-80 (St Lucie Locks and Dam), on Sunday, February 21. The pictures were taken around 2:45pm on a very windy day. (Thus I declined an invitation!) Ed basically made a big circle.
I am including all 52 photos as each one presents a slightly different perspective. Ed flew from the Crossroads and inlet of the SLR/IRL west to S-80 along the C-44 canal. There he saw no discharges coming through the gates from either the C-44 basin or Lake Okeechobee. Most recently, the ACOE halted discharges on January 9th, 2021 after 3 months of discharging. The river is starting to recover in appearance, but not soul.
Today, Lake Okeechobee is at 15.42 feet.
Tomorrow at 3pm the ACOE will hold a media call to announce their operational decisions for the coming week/s. James Yochem, spokesman for the Corp, has shared the following media advisory. The public usually does not speak on these calls but can listen-in.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will conduct a briefing with interested media representatives regarding water management for Lake Okeechobee and south Florida. The media briefing will be held Feb. 25 at 3 p.m.
Please join the call using this information:
US Toll Free 844-800-2712 Access code 199 453 9583
If you are asked for an attendee ID number, dial #
It is very important that we are paying attention to “all things river”and “speaking up for the St Lucie” when possible as we approach wet and hurricane seasons.
Thank you Ed for the recent aerials!
~To view Ed’s photo essay documentation prior to this one on February 3, 2021, see Milky Waters!
~To review what happened to the St Lucie in Toxic 2016, see Too Unthinkable.
-Lake Okeechobee’s northwestern shoreline on a beautiful day, 2020. Photo Ed Lippisch and Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch“LOSOM.” Sounds rather ominous doesn’t it?
You may have heard the acronym recently and wanted to get involved. Today, I will try to simplify the major aspects of LOSOM best known as the “Lake Okeechobee System Operation Manual,” by splitting the process into three sections, past, present and future. It is my hope that this helps the everyday-person make sense of a complicated process and provides tools for effective advocacy.
Getting involved with LOSOM is about the most important thing we can do to “be a voice for the estuaries” because it means influencing a very complex lake operating system that for years has favored water users at the expense of the estuaries. Over time, priorities change, it is time to be fair, and now is an opportunity to speak-up. This occasion comes along only every decade, or two…
So here we go!
The ACOE’s lake operation systems entail a lot of complicated science, however, one thing we can all understand is lake level. The modern lake regulation schedules began in the 1970s. Outstanding author and scientist, Thomas E. Lodge, states on page 153, in his book, The Everglades Handbook, Fourth Edition :“Since the 1930s, Lake Okeechobee’s water levels, or stages, have been regulated in an effort to balance often conflicting goals.”
The goals/so called benefits of expanding the canal system and draining Florida were the following: 1. Flood control; 2.Land Use (creation of the Everglades Agricultural Area, and more drained land for development throughout the system); 3. Navigation; 4. Fish and Wildlife; 5. Water Supply, and 6. Recreation.
What is not mentioned, nor was considered in times past, is “Health.”
In recent years, poor water quality, due to non-point and point source pollution build-up over many years, has led to large toxic algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee; unfortunately due to irresponsibility and carelessness, it has reached mammoth proportions. When discharged to the estuaries, St Lucie, Caloosahatchee, and the Lake Worth Lagoon (not yet formally considered an “estuary”) local economies, as well as wildlife and human health is threatened to the point of catastrophe.
The NOAA satellite image below shows a cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Okeechobee in July of 2016. Absolutely unbelievable. To deal with this dangerous situation, over the past couple of years, the Army Corp has implemented a Harmful Algae Bloom Deviation. It will more than likely become part of LOSOM.
-Lake O, NOAA satellite image 2016. Table 11.2 below is an excerpt from Dr Lodge’s book and is extremely helpful in understanding the history of the Army Corp of Engineers’ regulation schedules and management of Lake Okeechobee. LOSOM will come next, starting in 2022.
-According to Dr Lodge, a 1913 Corp of Engineers’ report “established the wet season level of Lake O at 20.6 feet NGVD. Seasonal low was 19.2 feet. Since 1913 the lake has multiple canal outlets and is now smaller and enclosed by a dike (1933). Regulation schedules since the 1970s are listed below. CLICK TO ENLARGE TABLE BELOW.
After studying the chart, one can see that we are entering the 6th modern Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule.
As mentioned, right now 1. Flood control (this includes dike and flood water safety); 2. Land Use; 3. Navigation; 4. Fish and Wildlife; 5. Water Supply and 6. Recreation are the goals lake regulation schedules of the past have worked under. But as the HAB deviation tells us, times are changing and priorities must be defined by the times we live in.
Which category do think has priority now? Which one/s had priority in the distant past? Why? Where do you want the priorities in the future? Should there be yet another priority such as health?
Mr Mitnick shared the slide below during this WATER CONDITIONS SUMMARY, which now includes LOSOM. Notice the word “health” is used a lot. Interesting.
The world of LOSOM is a world of scientific models. And it is these scientific models that will help determine the future. The South Florida Water Management District’s expertise as a local sponsor of the Central and Southern Florida Plan puts them in charge of the modeling for the Army Corp of Engineers. Groups of volunteer and experts have been discussing these models since January of 2019. They have narrowed the models down from over 120,000. Now you can jump in too!
Note the numbers to left of each sub-objective or goal. For instance, the number next to “Enhancing ecology in the St Lucie” is 4C. The scientific models that benefit the St Lucie are 4C models. The number next to “Enhancing ecology in the Caloosahatchee” is 4B. The models that benefit the Calooshachee most are 4Bs. The ideal lake operation conditions for these two estuaries are not quite the same. For instance, the St Lucie wants 0 discharges, but the Caloosahatchee needs some discharges due to salinity issues. When the LOSOM process gets to “balancing” these things will have to be worked out along with all the other stakeholder goals and wishes. Get the idea?
So here’s your chance. What is your priority for your water body or other? Of course they are all important but what stands out for you TODAY? 1. Flood control; 2. Land Use; 3. Navigation; 4. Fish and Wildlife; 5. Water Supply; and 6. Recreation and/or 7. Health.
Think Estuaries: St Lucie, Caloosahatcee, Lake Worth Lagoon, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, Lake Okeechobee itself? Once upon a time, Lake Okeechobee was once part of the greatest estuary in the world-our River of Grass!
In the art of negotiating, or “balancing,” as the ACOE calls it, start strong with your first priority. Ask yourself which category has taken a back seat? Maybe you are not pleased with any of them. Which priority should come forward? Perhaps its a combination. You decide!
So where are we in this complicated process? The SFWMD will hold workshops for the board and public in the coming months. But consider getting involved now.
The SFWMD image below shows that we are in the green phase: January 2021-May 2021, where 13 models will be chosen from the 27,000. This is too much to think about. Just focus on your goal. Your number from the above chart.
The yellow rectangle that is so hard to read says: “Iteration 2, Balanced Array of Lake Schedules” (May 2021-July 2021). After July we will enter the orange phase and all of the feedback (advocacy and input) will be “balanced.” Negotiated.
Negotiated in the public arena! When all is said and done, the new lake plan —the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) —will take effect in 2022.
So speak up now! Write the Army Corp, the address is below or better yet, attend Monday’s February 22, 2021 meeting if possible. There will be others, but put your foot in the water now. 🙂
Even though, this has been a relatively complicated post, I hope it has helped simply the LOSOM process: thank you for being a voice for the estuaries and our waters!
-Shadow in Toxic algae, Central Marine, St Lucie River, Stuart, FL 2016. Photo JTLSince February 1, 2021, the St Lucie River has fallen under an Army Corp of Engineer’s “HAB Deviation” or Harmful Algae Bloom Deviation. If you are not familiar with it, this is a complex situation, and it took a lot to get there; however, I am going to try to explain it in easy terms.
Basically, HAB Deviation means that the ACOE has the authority to discharge from Lake Okeechobee in order to avoid another toxic summer. The HAB Deviation gives the ACOE the ability, if necessary, to discharge more flexibly than is documented in the present Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, or LORS 2008. The HAB Deviation may dovetail with new requirements in 2022, when a new, updated lake regulation schedule called LOSOM, is delivered. The HAB Deviation may or may not exist then. But for now, it does.
“Why?” you may ask.
Because actually the ACOE is trying to protect the estuaries from a precarious future. For example, this year, today, (2-14-21) Lake Okeechobee, is at 15.40 feet. This is considered “high” from a St Lucie/Caloosahatchee point of view because looking forward to June 1st 2021, when rainy season begins, it appears the estuaries may be receiving discharges.
Again, the purpose is for the ACOEs to be able to discharge -to get the lake down early- so they don’t “have” to massively discharge come summer -when the lake undoubtably will have algae blooms. The goal is to avoid discharging algae. Thus the term HAB DEVIATION.
“Is it better to get the discharges during the winter months when there is not algae in Lake Okeechobee?” This is a difficult question.
Best would be not to get any at all…
Today, I share because it is all so confusing. At a recent SFWMD meeting, I realized that I didn’t even understand that although the St Lucie is not receiving discharges, the deviation has already begun…
Approved Planned Deviation from LORS 2008 to reduce risk from Harmful Algal Blooms
2020 Planned Deviation to the Water Control Plan for Lake Okeechobee and Everglades Agricultural Area (LORS 2008)
Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee, and Palm Beach counties
Final Supplemental Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (Oct. 8 2020)
NOTE: very large files may take several minutes to open and download.
-2016 Toxic Algae Bloom, St Lucie River at Central Marine. The algae blooms start in Lake Okeechobee. When discharged to the St Lucie River the blooms are exaserbated by poor water quality and the freshness of the once brackish estuary due to long releases from the Lake Okeechobee. This pattern must stop. More water must flow south. Photo JTL
My husband Ed, and friend, Dan Velinsky, went fishing yesterday (2-9-21) at “Sailfish Flats” between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point. It was indeed a spectacular day, and Ed returned home smiling even though they didn’t catch any fish. “It was beautiful.” He exclaimed. “But no seagrass, no fish, except hiding by the islands…” Then he turned with wide smile: “We even saw seven dolphins and two turtles! I taped them!”
The whole time Ed was speaking, I couldn’t help it…
I saw a number flashing in my head: 15.41, the level of Lake Okeechobee on February 9, 2021. This number is high from a St Lucie point of view for this time of year. In June will come rainy season….
As ACOE’s Col. Kelly reported last week, the lake is going dow, but: “Today, the lake stage is at 15.42 feet, which is still 2.5 feet higher than it was one year ago, and 2.7 feet higher than it was two years ago.”
I share Ed photos “on a perfect day,” to document- knowing – we must keep an eye on Lake Okeechobee and the decisions of Army Corp of Engineers .
A Ten Year View, Discharges to the St Lucie Estuary
Today I share images that help tell the story of the St Lucie Estuary over the past ten years. The first image is from the website eyeonlakeo. My brother, Todd Thurlow, takes data from D-Hydro of the SFWMD and puts it into a format that the average person can understand.
The chart above shows the “S-80 spillway at St Lucie Locks’ cumulative discharges by CALENDAR YEAR, 2011-2020.”
Scientists use Water Years, May 1 of one year, through April 30 of the next year. This splits up the years making it more confusing to remember or understand. We, as people, live our lives in calendar years.
We can see by looking at Todd’s chart that 2016’s calendar year is highest overall discharge year with 842,775 acre feet (one foot of water covering one acre) of water going to the St Lucie from what is called “local runoff” (all canals and surrounding areas) as well as discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
How large is 842,775 acres? Comparatively, Martin County is 347, 520 acres. 2020 is 188,723 acre feet and climbing. We are talking tremendous amounts of water!
In descending order, we see 2016; 2013; 2017; 2018; 2015; 2020; 2012; 2014; 2019; and 2011. The brown of line of 2020 crests 2015 as when the year is completed, 2020 will more than likely be higher than 2015.
“Could you please get me a chart or graph showing discharges to the St Lucie River for 2012-2020 by month. Please present this information from January through December of each calendar year and break it out from S-80 and S-308 and also give a total combined number. Please also note for each of those calendar years, the highest level Lake Okeechobee got that year.”
To view this information, click on Charts in red below for visuals, and data in red below for numerical charts. As mentioned this information below is from the SFWMD. This compiled information provides great perspective.
I, as many, participated in yesterday’s Army Corp of Engineers‘ Periodic Scientist Call. During the course of the call, it was alluded that the ACOE may be letting up or halting Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie Estuary soon. As soon as they do, we will begin to chart calendar year 2021. All things considered, everything in me believes it will be better than 2020!
Today is October 26, these photos/videos were taken over the weekend on October 24, 2020. The first is the St Lucie River looking off the Evan’s Crary Bridge at Sewall’s Point; the second is a video of the St Lucie River taken between Rio and Stuart; and the third is a video of a brown ocean at Peck’s Lake. The St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and much of the east coast of South Florida have endured tremendous, repetitive downpours in 2020, causing massive “local basin runoff.” The St Lucie has been stressed for months, and since October 14, there are also discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Prior to that, there had been no Lake O discharges since March of 2019. This post is written to document this discharge era for today and for later reference.
1-Video visual water quality from boat, wide St Lucie River near Rio 10-24-20
2-Video visual water coloring, Atlantic Ocean at Peck’s Lake, south of St Lucie Inlet 10-24-20
DOCUMENTING THE DISCHARGES 2020
Covid-19, an active hurricane season, and the 2020 presidential election have captured our attention, but most of know, as this Tyler Treadway Stuart News article reports, much to our dismay, due to a high rate of Lake Okeechobee rise, and after weeks of media briefings, and warnings, a reluctant ACOE started discharging to the St Lucie River on October 14th. Thankfully, for much of the time, it has been difficult due King Tides. The discharges are expected at least another week longer if not a month depending weather and rainfall from Tropical Storm Zeta. See link below from the ACOE’s most recent, 10-20-20, Periodic Scientist Call for more info.
The most comprehensive place to keep track of all this is Todd Thurlow’s website (http://eyeonlakeo.com) that provides a multitude of easily interpreted information. Check it every day, especially LIVE DATA and Satelitte NCCOS HAB images of Lake Okeechobee.
Michael Conner, THE INDIAN RIVERKEEPER keeps an active Facebook page on Lake O discharge and other local issues and is often on the ground reporting.
Also on 10-14-20 The Florida Department of Environmental Protection put out a press release: “Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Preparation for Algae Bloom Mitigation Following Announcement by Corps of Releases From Lake O.” This technology has not been needed thus far.
I can’t forget to include that October 11, 2020, right before the discharges began, Ed and I took this video documenting a significant algae bloom in the middle of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time it has been too stormy, or cloudy to go up. Usually, rain and lack of sunshine minimize visual blue-green algae blooms as can be seen on Todd’s website. The algae does remain in the water column. This image/video was shared by many news stations and posted on Facebook.
3-Large algae bloom in middle of Lake Okeechobee, 10-11-20.
Next , I would like to document Florida Oceanographic CEO, Mark Perry’s recent op-ed as it gives us pause. “Why can’t, why aren’t we able to send more water south?” We know a lot has been done, and we are grateful, however, 2020 is not 1948, we must continue to advocate for a better water future…
OP-ED MARK PERRY, PUBLISHED IN STUART NEWS, October 15, 2020
Lake Okeechobee discharges can go south now.
As the water level rises in Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering discharges to the coastal estuaries, the St. Lucie to the east and Caloosahatchee to the west.
According to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the Corps considers where the lake level is at this time of year within the “operational band,” which ranges from 10.50 to 17.25 feet of elevation. Then, based on the rainfall outlook and tributary conditions, they determine “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the water conservation areas and to the estuaries.
The water conservation areas (900,000 acres) are the remnant Everglades, south of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) which is the 700,000 acres immediately south of the lake used primarily for growing sugarcane.
For “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the estuaries, the Corps has specify flow amounts going to each estuary, which can be “up to 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to the Caloosahatchee and 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie.”
That is where they are right now with the lake at 16.02 feet elevation.
But the “allowable” releases to the water conservation areas are always “up to maximum practicable.” What does that mean? Well, they rarely talk about how much they can release to the water conservation areas, and never tell us how much should be considered to go south.
In fact, water has been flowing south into the water conservation areas all throughout this wet season, May through October.
But it is not coming from the lake.
About 955,000 acre feet (311 billion gallons) has been going into the water conservation areas from the EAA basin runoff. This means that they are keeping the EAA water table down to 10.5 feet — ideal for crops — by draining all this water through our 57,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas and into the water conservation areas — the Everglades.
Meanwhile, the Corps says they must discharge Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries because they can’t release it to the south. Well, they can — they have been doing it for months and they still are today, but it is all coming from the EAA basin runoff!
All this time, we could have been releasing lake water to the water conservation areas, and we could do the same right now instead of killing the estuaries with releases and wasting this water to tide.
But for that to happen, we need to tell the EAA to store and treat runoff on their own land so the stormwater treatment areas can be used for water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee.
The Corps and South Florida Water Management District are jointly responsible for managing water in south Florida. We need to have them focus on restoring more natural water storage and treatment north of the lake, in the 2.5 million acre watershed, so the lake doesn’t fill up so fast.
But we must also get them to flow south from the lake to the Everglades during the wet and dry seasons. We don’t have to wait for huge regional projects to be authorized and completed, we can do this now.
The lake is rising quickly because the EAA is using the capacity to send water south. Agricultural interests would like it to stay high because during the dry season, November thru April, the EAA will demand water from the Lake, about 350,000 acre feet, as water supply for their crops.
These are ideal conditions for the EAA, but not so good for the lake, the greater Everglades ecosystem and the coastal estuaries.
Mark Perry is executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
Below are Florida Oceanographic’s most recent St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon water quality reports
Finally: During Rivers Coalition meeting 10-22-20 more expansive documentation/reporting of on-going seagrass loss/slow recovery in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was requested. It was noted that SFWMD “Ecological Reports” cover only two historical seagrass areas of the once lush and healthy Sailfish Flats.
You may have seen my most recent Lake Okeechobee post from July 25, 2020? After algae aerials since May 8th, my dear husband, Ed, said he saw no algae. Ed and I had a back and forth -me saying the algae “was hiding.” Hiding in the water column. Ed saying it was gone. Well, guess what? I was correct…
Today, July 29, only four days later, the cyanobacteria is back. There was one positive to it all. Ed added to his long list of esteemed flight guests, Ft Meyer’s Captains Chris Whitman and Daniel Andrews – the faces of Captains for Clean Water. The east and west coasts of Florida have been advocating together since the days of the Sugarland Rally in 2013. East and west, an important water alliance.
According to Ed, “the algae was bright and visible over the majority of the western, and southern-central portion of the lake, but became less dense as one approached Port Mayaca.”
“Were you surprised the cyanobacteria had returned?” I asked.
Ed had a very simple answer: “yes.”
Ed also said it was a great to hosts the Captains. What an honor.
Below are some of Ed and Captain Daniel’s photographs from Wednesday, July 29, 2020. You will see, with the sun shining, the lake is once again, visibly, full of algae. This is important documentation for the Army Corp of Engineers as we possibly face a very wet weekend.
Today’s flight, 7-18-20, revealed a lack-luster colored algae bloom blown to the southwest area of Lake Okeechobee. Rather than the florescent green often seen, there was more of a pea-green conglomeration against the west side. But it was there.